TV: Glee’s Unfortunate Decline Into Melodrama

Written by Jim Dalrymple on . Posted in TV

iGlee/i - the worlds most depressing musical.

Glee -- American television's most depressing high school musical.

(Spoiler Alert: This article contains plot information through the most recent episode of Glee.)

After four episodes, I couldn’t put my finger on what was bothering me about Fox’s new crown jewel Glee. Then, while watching last week’s episode, I realized Glee doesn’t know if it’s trying to be funny or serious.

Glee’s first few episodes overcame some remarkable shortcomings to become quite endearing. For example, the pilot episode introduces the William McKinley High School glee club, which is populated by a group of worn-out clichés. There’s the gay fashionista, the overweight black girl who can sing like Aretha Franklin, the nerdy guy (perhaps the most unique of the bunch because he’s in a wheelchair), and the attractive but self-important leader Rachel Berry. These characters are so stereotypical that I was left wondering if the show’s writers simply plagiarized parts of School of Rock or any number of better teen comedies.

Surprisingly, however, Glee got a strong start because it mixed these stock characters with fantastic style, strong performances and a familiar (but nevertheless pleasant) underdog story. Though no one on the show was necessarily a “good” person, they were all pretty funny and it looked like Fox might have another winning farce on their hands in the vein of Arrested Development.

And then things got serious. The club’s faculty leader, Will Schuester, became painfully cutthroat while drifting away from his wife; Rachel turned into such a diva that she quit the club; and Finn, Glee’s male lead, discovered his girlfriend was pregnant. Though each episode brought something new to the table, that newness has generally been in the form of either insipid, tangential storylines or “serious” drama that feels more like a primetime soap.

The problem with Glee becoming a soap like 90210 is that all of its ingredients still ought to add up to comedy, but they just get less funny with each week. This is probably most evident among the women of the show, who have fared particularly poorly during the descent into melodrama. Some, like Emma Pillsbury (played charmingly by Jayma Mays), are appealing characters that have apparently been relegated to peripheral roles. Others, like Rachel or Will’s wife Terri, have their most annoying or repulsive qualities emphasized over and over again. The result is that there currently aren’t many people to root for on Glee.

Glee is still in its earliest stages, and there is still time for its writers to figure out how to balance comedy and drama. Other shows have managed to do just that before, and there are certainly many people who want Glee to succeed. However, despite a lot of promise and talented actors, I’m sure I won’t be the only one who stops tuning in if things don’t improve soon.

Jim Dalrymple is a popular culture correspondent for Rhombus. You can follow him on Twitter @jimmycdii.

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